Game of thrones: Moscow ‘aiding Taliban to undermine US role’

Game of thrones: Moscow ‘aiding Taliban to undermine US role’
In this file photo, American soldiers wait on the tarmac in Logar province, Afghanistan. (AP)
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Updated 04 July 2020

Game of thrones: Moscow ‘aiding Taliban to undermine US role’

Game of thrones: Moscow ‘aiding Taliban to undermine US role’
  • Russia financed and supplied weapons to insurgents, Afghan officials claim

KABUL: Russia has aided the Taliban for years to force a US withdrawal from Kabul and undermine American influence in the war-ravaged country, a governor and several former Afghan officials told Arab News on Saturday.

Rahmatullah Nabil, director of Afghanistan’s intelligence until 2015, said: “Moscow initiated contact with the Taliban through Iran before 2014, just as Daesh emerged in Afghanistan. Russia believed that the Taliban, unlike Daesh, only had a local agenda and no external ambition.”

He added that Russian engagement with the Taliban began with a “covert meeting in a central Asian country in 2014/2015.”

Nabil’s claims follow news reports last week that allege Moscow offered bounties to the Taliban for the killing of US soldiers in Afghanistan.

The reports, based on US intelligence, were established from intercepted electronic data which showed financial transactions between Russia’s military intelligence agency and a Taliban-linked account. US officials have also named an Afghan contractor who acted as a key middleman in the relationship.

Afghanistan is seen as an important area of Russian foreign policy. Moscow has long regarded Kabul as a key part of its sphere of influence in Central Asia.

Nabil said Russia built ties with the Taliban by investing in key areas and supplying weapons.

“Russia invested in four layers in Afghanistan — high-ranking government officials, politicians, Taliban and local warlords in the north. To the first two categories, it sent financial support through Hawala (a traditional tool for money transfers) through some Afghan businessmen, and a top-up in fuel which was exported to Afghanistan,” he said.

He added that weapons “were given at some borders and crossing points.”

“In 2016, Moscow also handed over 10,000 AK-47s to government forces. Even the government does not know where the rifles are,” he said.

Moscow welcomed the toppling of the Taliban in the 2001 US-led invasion, but over the years it has — like its regional ally Iran — spoken against an extended US presence in the country.

Experts say Russia’s complaints have been long in the making.

It began with the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in the 1980s, with Russia accusing the US and other Western countries of supplying weapons to Mujahideen factions who fought against Soviet troops.

Russia was eventually forced to retreat from Kabul after nearly 10 years of bloody occupation, creating a deep mistrust between Moscow and Washington, which eventually lead to Russia aiding the Taliban in its bid to force a US withdrawal.

Ghulam Rabbani Rabbani, a member of Kunduz’s provincial council, said he was “not surprised” to learn that Russia was using the Taliban. He added that Rahmatullah Azizi, an Afghan businessman, had acted as a middleman between the two groups.

“Azizi has disappeared all of a sudden, but the intelligence agency has arrested four people close to him,” Rabbani told Arab News.

Others said the war in Afghanistan had both “regional and international dimensions,” and that Russia was just one of the players in the “great game.”

“The war here is not between the government and the Taliban, otherwise you would have already seen a winner,” Dawlat Waziri, a retired defense ministry general, told Arab News, adding that Moscow was tending to old wounds.

“Russia wants the US to suffer a defeat like it did. It wants America to lose soldiers and see the downfall of its economy so that it is forced to leave Afghanistan,” he said.

Anwar Jigdalak, a former governor of Kunduz province, agreed.

Citing locals in northern Kunduz, 335 km north of Kabul, he said the Taliban had once sent one of its shadow governors, Mawlavi Abdul Salaam, to Tajikistan to hold talks with Russian officials and strengthen their relationship.

Kunduz is a strategic province which lies close to Tajikistan, and was the first city seized by the Taliban in 2015 “with the help of Russian intelligence,” Jigdalak said.

“But when Salaam returned to Afghanistan, an American killed him in an air strike. When Moscow wants to be present in Syria, which is very far, why not have influence in Afghanistan which is close,” he added, referring in part to the Russian support of Syria’s Assad regime.

Experts say other issues are at stake, too.

Aimal Faizi, an analyst, said the allegations of Russian bounties are “part of an effort by some to keep troops in Afghanistan.”

He tweeted: “They have been trying to prolong the US war and occupation in Afghanistan by different means.”

Both Moscow and the Taliban have repeatedly denied the allegations. Zabihullah Mujahid, a Taliban spokesman, told Arab News on Thursday that the reports were “false,” and spread “to keep US troops in Afghanistan to confront its enemies.”

He added: “Our contacts with Russia have been all the time for political and diplomatic goals only.”

Last week’s report comes amid a push by several current and former US generals to keep US troops in Afghanistan, an important condition for a historic peace deal signed with the Taliban in late February this year.

If it happens, it could throw the spotlight on President Donald Trump’s campaign pledge to withdraw all troops from the country.

Trump, who is standing for re-election in November, said all soldiers would leave by next spring based on the February agreement.


Nurse who helped saved Boris Johnson’s life quits in protest

Nurse who helped saved Boris Johnson’s life quits in protest
A file photo shows (L-R) St Thomas Hospital Director of Infection and consultant Dr Nick Price, Britain's PM Boris Johnson and Ward Sister Jenny McGee sharing a joke as the PM talks to the NHS staff in central London on July 5, 2020. (AFP)
Updated 19 May 2021

Nurse who helped saved Boris Johnson’s life quits in protest

Nurse who helped saved Boris Johnson’s life quits in protest
  • She refused to take part in a Downing Street photo opportunity last July, noting: “Lots of nurses felt that the government hadn’t led very effectively, the indecisiveness, so many mixed messages

LONDON: A nurse credited with helping to save Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s life last year has quit the UK health service in protest at the government’s lack of “respect” for frontline staff.
New Zealand-born Jenny McGee was one of two intensive-care nurses who gave Johnson round-the-clock treatment a year ago in a central London hospital when he was struck down with Covid-19.
The prime minister said later that he only pulled through thanks to their care, but his government has since faced fury from nurses for offering a pay rise of just one percent — effectively a cut, after inflation.
“We’re not getting the respect and now pay that we deserve. I’m just sick of it. So I’ve handed in my resignation,” McGee says in a Channel 4 television documentary airing next Monday.
She refused to take part in a Downing Street photo opportunity last July, noting: “Lots of nurses felt that the government hadn’t led very effectively, the indecisiveness, so many mixed messages. “It was just very upsetting.”
Keir Starmer, leader of the main opposition Labour party, said McGee’s resignation was a “devastating indictment of Boris Johnson’s approach to the people who put their lives on the line for him and our whole country.”
But a Downing Street spokesperson said “this government will do everything in our power to support” staff of the National Health Service (NHS), stressing they had been excluded from a pay freeze affecting other public sector workers.
In the documentary, McGee says it was “surreal” seeing the prime minister in her hospital. “All around him there was lots and lots of sick patients, some of whom were dying,” she recalled. “I remember seeing him and thinking he looked very, very unwell. He was a different color really.
“They are very complicated patients to look after and we just didn’t know what was going to happen.”
A worse wave of the pandemic hit Britain in the winter months, and McGee said the situation on her wards leading up to Christmas “was just a cesspool of Covid.”
“At that point, I don’t know how to describe the horrendousness of what we were going through,” she said.
In a statement Tuesday, McGee said she plans to take up a new nursing job in the Caribbean, but hopes to return to the NHS in the future.


US condemns Erdogan 'anti-Semitic' remarks

US condemns Erdogan 'anti-Semitic' remarks
Updated 19 May 2021

US condemns Erdogan 'anti-Semitic' remarks

US condemns Erdogan 'anti-Semitic' remarks
  • The latest episodes are likely to sour further the relationship between Turkey and the United States

WASHINGTON: The United States on Tuesday sharply criticized Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan for what it called "anti-Semitic" remarks amid his denunciations of Israel's strikes in Gaza.
"The United States strongly condemns President Erdogan's recent anti-Semitic comments regarding the Jewish people and finds them reprehensible," State Department spokesman Ned Price said in a statement.
"We urge President Erdogan and other Turkish leaders to refrain from incendiary remarks, which could incite further violence," he said.
Erdogan, whose political roots are in Islamism, has championed the Palestinian cause during his 18-year rule even though Turkey remains one of the few Muslim-majority nations with relations with Israel.
He has accused Israel of "terrorism" against the Palestinians and recently said, "It is in their nature."
"They are murderers, to the point that they kill children who are five or six years old. They only are satisfied by sucking their blood," he said.
Erdogan also lashed out at US President Joe Biden for his diplomatic support to Israel, saying the US leader has "bloody hands."
The latest episodes are likely to sour further the relationship between Turkey and the United States.
Biden took office vowing a harder line on Erdogan, whom he has described as an autocrat, and last month took the landmark step of recognizing the mass killings of Armenians by the waning Ottoman Empire in 1915-17 as genocide.
Biden and Erdogan nonetheless had agreed to hold a first meeting on the sidelines of a NATO summit in Brussels next month.


Indonesia’s COVID-19 vaccine drive gets a shot in the arm with private sector plan

Indonesia’s COVID-19 vaccine drive gets a shot in the arm with private sector plan
Indonesia aims to vaccinate 181.5 million people or 70 percent of its 270 million population to develop herd immunity by the end of 2021. (AFP)
Updated 19 May 2021

Indonesia’s COVID-19 vaccine drive gets a shot in the arm with private sector plan

Indonesia’s COVID-19 vaccine drive gets a shot in the arm with private sector plan
  • President wants to accelerate efforts to reach herd immunity by year-end

JAKARTA: Private sector companies in Indonesia on Tuesday began inoculating employees against COVID-19 with a paid-for vaccine plan aimed at boosting productivity and accelerating the government’s free, nationwide vaccination drive.

The plan was finally rolled out four months after President Joko Widodo — in a January meeting with the Indonesian Chamber of Commerce (Kadin) — introduced the idea for the private sector to carry out and pay for its own vaccination drive, Kadin chairman Rosan Roeslani said.
“We discussed with the president on how to quickly reach herd immunity. The president came up with this idea, and the business community responded positively,” Roeslani told Arab News.
Widodo rolled out the private vaccination drive during a visit to a Unilever Indonesia plant in an industrial zone of Cikarang, West Java province.
The company began inoculating its employees along with 16 other companies and two private vaccination centers for micro, small, and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs) from industrial zones around Jakarta.
Unilever, and 16 other labor-intensive companies began administering the jab on Tuesday.
There are also two centers for MSMEs that do not have their own premises for carrying out vaccinations.
Roeslani said 22,736 companies had registered to inoculate more than 10 million people through the private vaccination scheme, which the chamber coordinated.
The companies registered in the program have to buy the vaccine from Kimia Farma, a subsidiary of the state-owned vaccine manufacturer Bio Farma, which the government assigned to import the vaccines for private companies.
The Health Ministry has capped the price for a single dose of China’s Sinopharm vaccine at $35, but participating companies cannot charge their employees for it.
Widodo said Indonesia had secured 420,000 Sinopharm doses out of the committed 30 million for private inoculation.
Other vaccines to be used for the private companies are China’s CanSino, while negotiations are underway for Russia’s Sputnik V.

HIGHLIGHT

The plan was finally rolled out four months after President Joko Widodo introduced the idea for the private sector to carry out and pay for its own vaccination drive.

“It is really difficult to secure vaccines nowadays, with 215 countries around the world competing to get them,” Widodo said during an exchange with vaccine recipients from other companies via video conference. “You are among the lucky ones to get the jab today. We hope by August or September, we will have inoculated 70 million people and the curve will be flattened by then so that the manufacturing plants can resume normal operations.”
Iswar Deni, the corporate secretary of garment manufacturer Pan Brothers, said the company had started to inoculate 1,000 out of 3,000 people it had registered.
“We are inoculating those at the supervisor and higher up level since they are the ones with high mobility to manage production operations, as well as those at the front line such as security personnel, internal COVID-19 task force members and labor union committee members,” he told Arab News.
Indonesia aims to vaccinate 181.5 million people or 70 percent of its 270 million population to develop herd immunity by the end of 2021.
As of Tuesday, nearly 14 million people had received their first jab, while 9.2 million have had the second dose of China’s Sinovac and Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccines which the government used in its national drive.
Accelerating the number of people being vaccinated is timely as Indonesia is facing the prospect of increased infections after the Eid Al-Fitr holiday, when people gathered in large numbers during the festivities and flocked to markets during the last days of Ramadan for Eid shopping.


Virus-ravaged rural Indian communities left ‘at God’s mercy’

Virus-ravaged rural Indian communities left ‘at God’s mercy’
A health worker inoculates a woman in Noida, Uttar Pradesh on Monday. (AFP)
Updated 19 May 2021

Virus-ravaged rural Indian communities left ‘at God’s mercy’

Virus-ravaged rural Indian communities left ‘at God’s mercy’
  • Officials in Basi village, in Uttar Pradesh’s worst-affected district of Baghpat, have recorded 35 deaths out of a population of 7,000 in the last month

NEW DELHI: Virus-ravaged rural communities in India’s largest and most populated state had been left “at God’s mercy” due to the collapse of the health system.
Millions of lives in Uttar Pradesh were said to be at risk following a surge in coronavirus disease (COVID-19) cases with some villages reporting hundreds of deaths and new infections on a daily basis.
A lack of proper medical facilities has left remote parts of the state ill-equipped to deal with the crisis as the country battles another wave of COVID-19.
In a ruling on Monday, Allahabad high court described the situation in Uttar Pradesh as “grim.”
Judges had been sitting to preside over a petition demanding better care for COVID-19 patients in the Meerut district. Petitioners had slammed India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government for “poor medical infrastructure and placing the lives of millions of people at the mercy of God.”
The court’s two-judge bench said: “If this is the state of affairs of treatment at a medical college in a city like Meerut, then the entire medical system of the state in the smaller cities and villages can only be taken to be at the mercy of God.”
Officials in Basi village, in Uttar Pradesh’s worst-affected district of Baghpat, have recorded 35 deaths out of a population of 7,000 in the last month.
“The situation is so grim that, in some houses, two or three deaths have taken place, wiping out the entire family,” Rajesh Nain, a social worker and village resident, told Arab News.
“In one house, both the father and son lost their lives in the space of two days, while in another, a middle-aged couple died in quick succession. It’s like the area has turned into a ghost village. No one comes out of the house; there is hardly any day when someone or other does not die,” he said.
On Tuesday, India logged more than 260,000 COVID-19 cases, a low figure compared to more than 400,000 last week, but the death rate remained high at in excess of 4,000 per day. Out of the national total, Uttar Pradesh reported 9,500 cases on Tuesday and 371 deaths.
However, experts and activists in rural areas disputed official figures, describing them as “under-reporting.”

BACKGROUND

Families reportedly ‘wiped out’ by COVID-19 as health system in parts of Uttar Pradesh collapses amid virus surge.

Basi’s former village leader, Satvir Pradhan, told Arab News: “The government is registering only those deaths which are happening in COVID-19 centers; they are ignoring villages where people are dying without oxygen, and hospital beds.
“There is no doctor, no medical centers, no testing. We asked the district administration to provide us with medical support, but despite assurances, no help has come,” he said.
The situation was reportedly similar in other parts of the state where more than 75 percent of its population of 200 million live in rural areas.
Devendra Dhammaa, a social activist and farmer from Basi’s neighboring village of Sankroub, told Arab News: “Villages in Uttar Pradesh are basically on their own as far as medical infrastructure is concerned.
“People have a fever; they take medicine supplied by local doctors who are mostly untrained, and then rest at home. If someone starts facing breathing problems, if he or she is lucky, they will find a doctor. Otherwise, they die,” he said.
Meanwhile, recent media reports said more than 2,000 bodies had been found “hastily buried or abandoned along the banks of Ganga (the Ganges)” in various districts of Uttar Pradesh.
In the Unnao district, a neighborhood of the state capital Lucknow, 900 bodies were recovered from riverbanks and similar instances were reported in districts including Ghaziabad, Kanpur, Ghazipur, Kannauj, and Ballia along the border with the eastern Indian state of Bihar.
Dr. Jagpal Singh Teotia, from Baghpat district, told Arab News: “What we are witnessing is an unprecedented horror and tragedy in the state. A huge part of the population has been left to fend for themselves with the government not providing any kind of support.
“An alertness on the part of the government and some focus on the health sector in the past one year could have saved many lives.”
Teotia, one of the few doctors in the area trained to treat COVID-19 patients, said several healthcare workers felt “helpless at the sight of tragedy” and blamed the government for “risking people’s lives.”
“When the government knew that the virus was spreading, what was the need to allow over 3 million people to gather at the Kumbh Mela (a large Hindu festival held in the northern Indian city of Haridwar)? What was the need to organize local body elections (in Uttar Pradesh last month) when the pandemic was at its peak?”
Arab News recently reported that more than 700 schoolteachers had died after participating in the local polls. A majority of the deaths took place in villages where medical facilities were non-existent.


London police officer under investigation for shouting ‘free Palestine’ at rally

London police officer under investigation for shouting ‘free Palestine’ at rally
Updated 18 May 2021

London police officer under investigation for shouting ‘free Palestine’ at rally

London police officer under investigation for shouting ‘free Palestine’ at rally
  • She was filmed accepting a white rose and hugging a protester amid a cheering crowd
  • It came as major cities across the UK have seen massive protests in solidarity with the Palestinian people

LONDON: London’s Metropolitan Police is investigating an on-duty officer who shouted “free Palestine” at a march condemning Israel’s bombing campaign in the Gaza Strip.

The uniformed female officer was captured on video at the demonstration in the capital. In the footage, she is seen accepting a white rose and hugging a protester.

She was heard shouting “free, free Palestine” to a cheering audience. The footage went viral on several social media sites.

It came as major cities across the UK have seen massive protests in solidarity with the Palestinian people.